Julia Michaels has been a professional songwriter for almost a decade, having dominated the charts with hits like Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” and Selena Gomez’s “Good For You.” She’s also collaborated with Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, Maroon 5, and Demi Lovato, among many others. It’s a long way from the days of working on the theme song to the Disney Channel series Austin & Ally.
Even with her continued success as a behind-the-scenes collaborator (she co-wrote the 2018 Janelle Monáe funk jam “Make Me Feel”) Michaels still found time to work on her two-part project Inner Monologue (Part One dropped in the beginning of 2019, with Part Two coming six months later). “I can’t believe that I get to f—ing do [music] all the time,” admits the singer, who first made a name as a solo artist with her Grammy-nominated 2017 track “Issues.” “I get to literally work with all my friends and call it my job, like what the f—?”
On Inner Monologue, Michaels continues to spin her brand of rock-forward, confessional melodies into pop gold. The 25-year-old singer speaks to EW about the new release, tackling mental health through music, and the way the songwriting she does for both herself and other artists has changed since her solo success.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re 25 now. Are you going through a quarter-life crisis, or has writing songs about things like mental health given you more stability?
JULIA MICHAELS: A little bit of both. I think 25 is the time when you really start to figure out who you are and what you want out of life, and I think writing is a really big way of helping me do that. It’s a very cathartic thing for me. I talk about a lot of things like working too much, my mental health, my self-image, how I view myself, how I’d like to view myself. So yeah, I definitely think writing has helped me figure out who I am, and what I want, and all of that stuff as I’m getting older, which is so weird. Ugh, time!
Now that you’ve really established yourself as an artist, has it made writing for other people easier? Do you now have “I know when this is a ‘me’ song” vs. “I know when this may be for someone else” feelings?
When I write for myself it’s usually very personal. It’s more about my perspective versus when I write for, or with, other people, it’s sort of a blending of perspectives. It’s theirs and mine and whomever else is in the room. I think that writing for other people for so long has helped me be in touch with all different walks of emotions, which in turn has made me be able to be in touch with mine. So, if anything, I feel like writing for other people has helped me write for myself more than the reverse.
You’ve said that Inner Monologue was split into two parts because you wanted new material for each tour leg. But now that both parts are complete, do you see anything that thematically separates them? Together are they one whole album?
I see it as one whole album. I don’t think there’ll be a part three, but I might put out a couple more songs and really make it an album. I haven’t decided yet. But yeah, originally I was going to do all love songs [on Part One], and then all heartbreak songs [on Part Two], like a where I am versus where I was. Then I got my heart broken again, so I was just like, “F— it,” and I scrambled them all up. Now it is what it is. It’s a mixture of just love and heartbreak and, again, self-image and mental health, and all of the things that I think and feel on a daily basis.
Does it scare you a little bit that you’ve gone from writing songs for people, to releasing your own songs, to now digging even deeper emotionally with Inner Monologue?
Of course. You’re spilling your emotions to the entire world, and if people don’t like it, then they’re sort of saying they don’t like a part of you. That can be really scary, but I’m really grateful to have fans that are like-minded and feel a lot of the same things in the same way that I feel [them]. I want to be authentically myself and I don’t want to hide anything, you know? If I don’t like who I am, then I don’t like who I am, and I’m going to write about it. If my anxiety is really f—ing bad one day, I’m going to write about it. If I’m in love, I’m going to write about it. I just want everyone to be a part of my life as much as I can.
And I know my music is an acquired taste, not everybody is going to like it. It’s really wordy, and it could sometimes be a bit overwhelming lyrically for people, but this is who I am. I’m overwhelming and I’m crazy and I just want people to listen to it and feel whatever they feel and connect to it however they do. That’s enough for me.
Does it feel like the songs that are the most personal are also the songs that fans reach out to you about the most?
Completely. I have so many fans that have tattoos of my song lyrics, and tattoos of my tattoos, and just come to the shows and scream and cry and have these full-on beautiful cathartic experiences, and I have the same things with them. As cheesy and clichéd as it sounds, they really do keep me going.
With you touring more, has your songwriting process changed at all?
Definitely. I find that when I write something, I’ll write something that I know my fans will like to scream out loud. I know that when I put out “Priest” everyone was going to scream “F— your confession.” They’re going to go out of their mind at my shows, I know it. It’s going to be so fun.
You started as a songwriter. How does it feel now that, through social media or even a show like NBC’s Songland, people in music who have usually been behind the scenes are now being pulled into the spotlight more?
I think it’s awesome. Music is evolving all the time, every day, and there are more songwriters than ever now. More people making really different innovative music and doing it the way that they want to, and it helps that places like Spotify actually care enough about the songwriters and the process of music to put the credits on the songs. And most of the time fans are such, such heavy fans that they want to know who’s making it. I mean, I’ve had kids literally find songs registered from the ASCAP database. I’m like “You’re 12, how do you know about an ASCAP database?” This is so crazy.
I hope that the recognition continues because everybody deserves to be heard. I know that it’s really special too, when people stop you on the street or something like “Hey you wrote these,” and I’m like “What, no, how do you know that?! That’s so crazy. Thank you.” I’m happy that that’s happening and I hope it continues.